Let’s play a game of pretend. What if cars ceased to exist? How would life be different? Governments would have to invest in public transport. People would walk more, get fitter and actually meet their neighbours. Concrete car parks would give way to green parks and room for more housing. Out of town monster shopping malls would be replaced by local markets and smaller urban villages. We may not be achieving utopia any time soon, but it’s great to dream.
If we applied a vision of utopia to corporate partnerships, can we imagine what life would be like without an income KPI? That sounds like heresy to most non-profit CEOs; of course you need money and surely corporates can hand over a bigger cheque than most. When job descriptions are written, most corporate partnership roles have a big income generating target at the top of the list. This sometimes has the effect of driving partnership executives to say yes to many, smaller, partnerships that don’t yield great ROI or maybe aren’t the best fit- all for the sake of hitting that income target.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. What would change if you didn’t have to chase the cash?
Impact over income
If you didn’t have an income KPI you’d be measured by the impact that the partnership could achieve for your mission. That impact would likely have a longer-term focus and shift thinking from the current financial year. When you’re trying to solve the big issues in the world, from climate change to cancer cures or gender inequality, the end point is the social impact you can achieve, not your balance sheet.
A shift from income to impact will drive partnership executives to dig deeper into what the organisation really needs, beyond cash, to achieve its mission. The partnership between WESNET, the peak body representing organisations working in domestic violence, and Tinder is a great example. By working together to create a Dating Safety Guide they are helping to keep women safe from abuse on technology platforms. The reach of apps like Tinder goes far beyond what any single NFP could achieve by themselves and works to prevent women falling into the trap of abusive relationships.
Success would look very different when you don’t lead with income. The partnership between Tesco and WWF started with a big audacious goal of halving the environmental impact of every shopping basket by 2030. Yes, of course there’s cash committed by Tesco to pay for the deep expertise from WWF and to generate innovation. But the cash is simply one enabler of achieving the ambitious goal. Other pillars of the partnership include a reduction in waste, restoring nature in farming to lower the environmental impact of production and helping customers eat more sustainably. Money is not just flowing to WWF to ‘solve’ the problem by themselves. Tesco is committing millions to fund technology innovation in their supply chain and is spending their time and resources on advocating to government and their fellow grocery retailers. They are well on their way to achieving their partnership goal and transforming the environmental impact of everyday shopping.
Ability to co-create
When you don’t have to lead with cash, your first question becomes ‘ what do I need to advance my mission?’ Cash is helpful but won’t always meet that need. When Lifeline was receiving calls for help every 15 seconds during COVID, they needed to find a solution that enabled volunteers to work from home. The partnership with Cisco solved the problem by creating a new platform that enabled remote access. It also provided an omni-channel approach that offered new ways for help seekers to get in touch. Bill Gates committed $1billion to eradicate polio and it’s still not finished. Working in partnership to create new solutions to thorny problems enables a non-profit to access the wealth of expertise, channels, networks, resources and assets that a corporate partner has to offer. If you’re open to collaboration and co-creation, you’ll achieve more impact and build stronger, sustainable partnerships.
Satisfaction and purpose
By 2025 Millennials will represent 75% of the population. Together with their Gen Z cousins, they are searching for purpose and making employment decisions that are not always driven by income. This generation shift is causing a seismic change for employers, driving greater focus on employee satisfaction and retention. Hiring great people and just giving them an income KPI is not going to be enough to keep them. Providing ways to live their values and achieve meaningful impact will be the keys to happier, more satisfied teams. Partnerships are built on great relationships and discontinuity I your partnership team will cause unnecessary break points in those relationships. Far better to retain your best partnership people and nurture those valuable corporate partners long into the future.
Climate change and global upheavals are challenging us to think differently about the way we live. That includes giving up some things we’ve always taken for granted. It’s time for us to apply the same lens to partnerships and say goodbye to the things that no longer serve us. If you’re looking for quick cash, then philanthropy and grants will be a better option. If you want long term impact, then partnerships based on impact and strategic alignment will create the transformation the world needs. To all the CEOs setting KPIs- which future would you rather have?